Sarasota audiences were first introduced to “South Beach Babylon” in 2011 during a reading of the play, still in draft form, at FST’s Sarasota Festival of New Plays. Miami-born playwright Michael McKeever has had seven other plays read in the festival during the past two decades.
In fact, the readings’ successes cropped full-fledged productions of “37 Postcards” and “The Miam-ians” on Florida Studio Theatre’s stages — and, now, “South Beach Babylon,” which opens July 24. This will be the first production of “South Beach Babylon” since McKeever made two large cuts to the script.
“To have one of your plays produced at FST is tantamount to winning the lottery,” McKeever says. “It’s always such a treat!”
Here’s a description of the play: Five South Beach artists prepare for Art Basel — is that pretty accurate?
That’s simply the story line. What the play is really about is that constant struggle for all artists — be it an actor, painter, performance artist, choreographer, etc. It’s the struggle of staying true to yourself as an artist. But, this is a commercial industry; you have to make it commercial enough or accessible enough where people are going to lay down $35 to $60 to see the performance. That’s at the heart of the play, finding that balance (between art and business) when creating artwork.
If you could sell your play using three adjectives, which would you use?
Wicked, sexy, fun.
What’s your history with South Beach?
I was born and raised in Miami, and I was living on South Beach when South Beach became “the South Beach.” There was a transition that happened from the late ’70s to ’80s and into the early ’90s, in which South Beach once was a bad, awful place where there was nothing but drug trade and old people. Miami Beach (eventually) developed into a sexy, dangerous place. And, one day, one moment at a time, the island redefined itself.
Who or what inspired your five artists in the script?
It’s certainly not autobiographical. What I wanted was to get different characters to represent different stages of careers, of where they want to be and of success strictly on a commercial basis.
Which character best represents where you are on the spectrum of artist careers?
I’m stuck in the middle … I’ve never done work I don’t feel passionate about. And, along the same lines, I haven’t ever forgotten that this is a commercial enterprise and a business, and that people are going to pay hard-earned money to see one of my shows. I’ve never felt strongly about putting something in front of an audience that will alienate or offend them, no matter how strongly I feel about it.
As a playwright, what is it like being an artist in contemporary America?
It’s hard. Sadly, the nature of the economy (especially the dip that it took) had a huge impact on the arts. We’re constantly struggling to get work produced … I find it’s getting harder and harder to do new and exciting work when there are becoming less venues to get the new work produced.
There’s something very noble to work in a career you love and with people you love. You don’t have to be a movie star or a Tony Award-winning playwright. And I take great pride that I’ve supported myself primarily as a playwright. Of course, winning a Tony (would be) fun, too.
What’s next for you? Can you tell us about any other scripts you’re working on that we might see at FST in the future?
Currently, I’m working on another that’s having a world premiere in March in Miami called “Clark Gable Slept Here.” I’ll read the synopsis: “As one of the silver screen's brightest stars charms his way through the Golden Globe Awards ceremony, his staff tries to figure out what to do with the dead male prostitute on his bedroom floor.” It’s a black, black, black comedy. I was just telling (FST’s casting/hiring coordinator) James Ashford about it and he was excited, so I’ll be sending it to him once the script is finished.
IF YOU GO
‘South Beach Babylon’
When: 8 p.m. July 24 and runs through Aug. 18
Where: Florida Studio Theatre (Gompertz Theater), 1241 N. Palm Ave.
Cost: Tickets $19 to $42
Info: Call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org
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